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Doing Knowledge: Explaining the Relationship between Culture and Knowledge

Sun, August 21, 10:30am to 12:10pm, TBA


A little-acknowledged fact is that Indigenous and scientific knowledges about the same topic often converge (overlap) as well as diverge (differ). Neither philosophical accounts of Realism nor sociological (or anthropological) accounts of cultural relativism can account for this. Theoretical work from Science and Technology Studies do not supply a suitable explanation either. In this paper, I compare four groups of practitioners studying the same empirical subject matter, clams. Two of the groups are Indigenous and two are scientific. By first comparing the differences and then the similarities in these culturally-distinct practitioners’ knowledge-making processes, I develop a theoretical framework I call “Doing Knowledge” to explain this surprising fact. Specifically, I argue that a practitioner’s cultural background affects the classification schemes and cultural models she uses, her metaphysical, ontological, epistemological, and moral positions, her selection filters, practices, tools, indicators, and the ways in which she socially positions and coordinates herself with her peers. All these cultural aspects of knowledge-making become intertwined in the practitioners’ active, relational process of knowledge-making with her subject that occurs within a promiscuous, dynamic, pluralistic material world. In other words, practitioners construct knowledge in specific times, places, and contexts through specific practices and conceptual lenses. As such, what becomes known does not directly reflect on the subject, but the relationships between the subject and the practitioner who studies it, with culture acting to systematically dampen or amplify differences in practitioner-subject relationships. The result of these differing practitioner-subject relationships is knowledges that both converge and diverge.


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